Foreign ministers of nations belonging to the European Union are meeting today on whether or not to join in the diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics amid increasing calls for them to take action.
The foreign minister of Lithuania declared on Monday that he personally would not be attending the Games in China in February. Meanwhile, France and the Netherlands are reportedly scrambling to arrive at a common European Union response to the growing unease over China’s human rights abuses.
The United States, Canada, Australia and Britain already announced over the last few weeks that they will not send any government officials to the Beijing Games in February. However, the EU appears to be ambivalent, wanting to send a clear message to the Chinese government over its treatment of the Uyghur people while fearing Chinese trade retaliations.
EU Parliament votes for diplomatic boycott of Olympics
Lithuania’s foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, stood out amongst all his EU brethren on Monday morning as he declared “I’m not going,” to reporters.
His country, which has already been singled out for a trade blockade by China for its ties with Taiwan, is among those taking the strongest stand against the Olympic host at the present time. Landsbergis admitted “I’m for a European approach but sometimes it is difficult to achieve.”
Meanwhile, that sentiment seemed to be borne out by Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister, Jean Asselborn, who told reporters flatly that any EU decision on the matter would not be forthcoming right away.
“You know as well as I do that we will not find a solution regarding the Olympic Games today or this week,” he stated.
In October, the European Parliament voted for a diplomatic boycott of the Games, although their vote was not legally binding.
EU leaders will also debate the issue on Thursday after France and Paris and The Hague placed the matter on the EU’s agenda, according to diplomats who spoke to reporters on Monday.
The diplomats added that Hungary, which is China’s closest ally in the EU, would never support the diplomatic boycott that other nations are planning on staging; however, there might be a consensus among the remaining 26 countries in the union.
For his part, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian stated last week that his country should take a common stand with other EU nations; his brand-new counterpart in the new German government, Annalena Baerbock, is in support of this stance. However, France’s Education Minister stated last Thursday that France would not be part of any boycott.
Austria’s Foreign Minister, Alexander Schallenberg, seemed to lean away from a boycott while at the same time he said he was “very much in favor of a joint EU position.
“We have a clear position on the human rights situation in China but I don’t think it is useful to let the Olympic Games artificially become a political event,” he said.
The lack of consensus in the bloc shows the great weight that Chinese trade has in the politics of the region, as it tries to find middle ground between taking a stand for human rights and taking a hit economically at a time when the world is just starting to emerge from the ravages of the pandemic.
China is the EU’s second-largest trade partner at the present time.
Those who are in favor of a boycott recall the bloc joining the United States and Great Britain in April then it imposed human rights sanctions on Chinese officials. At that time, such a bold move jeopardized the new EU-China investment pact.
But Luxembourg’s Asselborn is adamant that it is now time for EU leaders to again stand for human rights regardless of the financial ramifications and do what they can to send a clear signal that they will not turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in China.
“I think if we speak up there on the ground, this brings more benefit than if we politicians go into hiding,” he said.
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